It’s becoming impossible to get through the day without hearing some expert or other holding forth about personal branding. They’re blogging, YouTube-ing and tweeting every hour of the day.
Take Dan Schawbel, for example. The New York Times has apparently dubbed Schawbel a “personal branding guru”. He should be, he’s written a best-selling book about it and is the publisher of an award-winning personal branding blog (www.personalbrandingblog.com) and magazine. The man has more than 49,000 followers on Twitter!
It seems that personal branding is a bigger topic than I’d imagined and the consequences are huge. No longer can those of us who work from home pop out for a paper in our trackie dacks – heaven forbid that we should be spotted looking unprofessional and hence damage our personal brand.
But could we be at risk of taking ourselves too seriously? I’m all for professionalism, but if we concentrate too hard on creating the perfect personal brand and marketing ourselves accordingly, we are in danger of becoming bland, homogeneous and, ironically, losing our USP (Unique Selling Proposition).
Leaving your footprint
Andy Taylor of Footpoint Shoe Clinic, based in the Sydney suburb of Mosman, is a guy who lives his values rather than spending time talking about them. His shop is pretty unusual. It has Australia’s only traclab – a digital gait assessor on a running track – plus podiatrists working in-store to help assess clients’ foot type and function. Taylor is so confident that he can provide clients with perfect sports footwear that he offers a 30-day guarantee on all runners. So if you buy some, go out for a run and discover they’re not right, he will replace them with a pair that is. I’ve never come across service like that before.
But there’s more to Footpoint than exemplary service. When I got chatting to Taylor I discovered that the shop supports local schools and raises funds for Can Too, an organisation founded by Anne Crawford in 2005 that trains amateur runners and swimmers for endurance events and raises funds for the Cure Cancer Australia Foundation.
We all know times are tough in retail right now. Yet Taylor takes an atypically long-term view. “Having worked for a number of different retailers over the years, I’d become disillusioned with that world. We want to put the integrity back into retail. We believe we have a social responsibility to give back to the community that gives so much to us.”
“When we started the business, one of the important drivers was to create a business based on honesty and integrity. With this focus we are able to establish better relationships with our clients and suppliers and have developed a long-term plan of being involved with our community. It’s important to us to be involved – the people coming into our store are the ones who make our business what it is.
“We have a number of different programs that contribute to the community. These include working with local schools, charity and not-for-profit organisations. We have a real focus on education and believe this will help build better relationships and a more sustainable business.”
Taylor believes altruism can bring commercial benefits. “Companies with a corporate conscience will develop better relationships with stakeholders as they are more concerned about the long-term benefits for the company and individuals. When there is a long-term focus, relationships are built – not to generate immediate sales, but to build loyalty and advocacy.”
He says there is also an upside for employees. “Employees are happier working for a company that wants to do good for the community. It helps them feel personally responsible for actions they undertake on behalf of the company for the benefit of a bigger cause.”
Taylor has it in a nutshell. Sometimes we need to think about the bigger cause, to think outside our personal square. Maybe thinking more about how we can help others and what we can do for our community says more about us than any amount of orchestrated personal branding.
Persephone Nicholas is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The Weekend Australian newspaper. She is particularly interested in career and workplace issues and also writes about travel and lifestyle.
Photo: Paulo Brandão